Tag Archives: alzheimers

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

One of my pet peeves is when an author, whether on television at the movies or in a book, treats all elderly persons as if they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Perhaps this is because the more birthdays I celebrate, the older the start of old age seems to become. I know numerous eighty and even ninety year olds who are active and get around just fine, including my own mother. Yes, she’s slowing down, but she’s not a doddering old fool.

I also understand that Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease which robs the victim and their families of so much. However, an author doesn’t do the reader any favors by misrepresenting the realities of these symptoms, although I realize that the “lost and found” of the heroine’s memory is central to the plot of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I suppose we must allow him some poetic license, especially since this is such a baffling ailment (and was even more unknown back in the days when this book was first written).

Nicholas Sparks is one of those authors whose name I have heard repeatedly attached to the term – “romantic novel”. One only has to mention the title of his next book and it is immediately optioned into a movie. When I was informed the book club I had recently joined had never read a romance, I immediately thought of Mr Sparks – the quintessential romanticist, and so I recommended The Notebook, a book on my own to-read list which I had never gotten around to perusing. I even owned my own copy and knew that it would be easy for the group to find at the public library, at Amazon/Barnes&Noble, or even at a “take one/put one back” bookshelf. We had just finished a super long tome and I thought a quick read would be a welcome change.

Now I am somewhat embarrassed by my choice. This was not what I expected.

Don’t get me wrong, my favorite type of book is a Regency Romance, so I often read romantic novels. I even dabble in contemporary romances by authors such as Bella Andre and Melody Ann, so I did have a baseline in mind. Let me just say that The Notebook didn’t meet even the minimal bar and I was left disappointed.

Of course, all romances are contrived and at times unrealistic as couples must overcome various road blocks in order to be together, otherwise why bother to write it all down. The Notebook does have numerous obstacles, not the least of which is a fiancé and an upcoming wedding. So what went wrong?

First one should determine the characteristics of a worthy romance, including:
Romance
Witty dialogue
Well defined characters
An Interesting plot with a few twists
Just long enough to tell the story without a lot of repetition of thoughts or dialogue
Some sexual contact (a plus, but not necessarily a required component)

Well, this book centered on the romance, but the story was one dimensional. Boy loves girl, girl loves boy, they separate and fail to reconnect, she finds another (the problem), girl finds boy again, boy still loves girl, girl discovers she still loves boy, girl sacrifices current life to stay with boy. I wish there was a little more, but that’s basically it. As far as the characters are concerned, Noah Calhoun is a simple, down-home boy who loves poetry and nature while Alison Nelson is a sweet, beautiful girl who appreciates poetry and is a gifted artist. Boom! Not much to build on. The dialogue consists of routine day to day conversations and repetitive thoughts of deep love – nothing clever. The main plot twist is that Allie’s mother Anne hid all the love letters that Noah wrote to Allie after the summer they spent together as teenagers. Mrs Nelson maintains a big town/small town bias, believing that her daughter was meant for something better than the rustic lifestyle Noah has to offer. In addition, pursuit of a career as an artist did not fit into Anne’s overall plan for her daughter’s future. FiancĂ©, Lon Hammond, definitely exemplifies the life that Allie deserves. Lon is a kind, considerate, wealthy, and well connected man who is respectful enough to wait to consummate the marriage until after the nuptials. The fact that he is devoted to his career as a trial lawyer and doesn’t make Allie the sole center of his universe, seems to be held against him. Yet he cares enough about her that when Allie chooses her old love, he graciously accepts her choice. After fourteen years of denial, Ann experiences a sudden change of heart, removing any sense of guilt her daughter might feel for the switch of future husbands. Conflict over!

The best part of the book is the set up. It starts at a nursing home where one of the residents spends every day reading a notebook containing the love story of Noah and Allie to a woman with Alzheimers. On a good day, the patient realizes that this is her story and she will emerge from the fog of her dementia into the real world for a few hours before the haze descends upon her once again. Noah hangs on to these precious moments, cherishing them along with the letters that his wife has written to him over the years. He leaves little poems under her pillow, in her pockets, etc. for Allie to find. Even if she doesn’t know how they got there, the words cheer her up. Noah is beloved by the other residents and the staff for his devotion to his wife. His dedication is responsible for those lucid moments and the kisses which follow, filling the remainder of his days with some sort of purpose.

Sweet like a cup of tea which is more honey than liquid! Contrived like a forged note to get out of gym class!

I suppose people are drawn to the story because everyone wants to root for the good guy. The book is short, direct, with simple dialect, and mild enough that you could give a copy to your grandparents. Also, who doesn’t want someone to love them so totally that you are the center of their universe. Well maybe not everyone, but it does appeal to our romantic side. There are even people out there who can relate to such a love affair. Forgive me if I’m not one of them.

The highlight of this short novel was the author’s mini autobiography found at the end of the story – if The Notebook could have injected some of the humor found in the vignettes of Spark’s own life, this book would have been a much better read.

To my chagrin, this novel is popular all over the world. I hate to believe that readers in other countries think that this is the best literature America has to offer.

I was going to give The Notebook one star, but, ironically, I was the only person in the book club who didn’t care for the book, so here is a reluctant two stars (which is as high as I can go and still sleep at night).

If this book had a hash tag it would be #SappyMaudlin or #NobodyIsThatGood

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The Glittering World by Robert Levy

I suppose I should start with what I actually liked about The Glittering World by Robert Levy. Levy’s method of telling the story is unusual. There are four main characters, each who is given a sections of the book. Michael Whitley, or Blue, inherits a home from his grandmother up in Canada, and his three companions – best friend Elisa, her husband Jason, and bus boy Gabriel – accompany Blue up to the “wilds” of Nova Scotia so he gets his hands on some desperately needed funds through the sale of his newly acquired property in Sterling Cove. Blue’s mom begs her son not to go back to their hometown, but, of course, he doesn’t listen. If he had been sensible, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell. The book advances with each of the main characters telling a different part of the story from their unique perspectives. Blue, an amazing chef who mesmerizes his diners with his culinary talents, is one of those charismatic fellows who draws people to him, like moths to a flame. Elisa remains obsessively connected to Blue despite her marriage to Jason (who simply doesn’t get the whole Blue phenomena). Gabe recognizes Blue’s greatness from the moment they meet, and eventually takes to wearing his shirts due to their distinct and comforting scent. The rest of this review has some spoilers so if you want to be surprised skip to the last paragraph.

For me, it just doesn’t work. Usually I read a book straight through, but this one was a chore. I didn’t feel any attraction towards Blue – it simply didn’t come through. I viewed Blue more through Jason’s dubious eyes than Gabe’s adoring ones. In addition, the surrounded characters were unappealing especially due to the potentially life saving secrets they withheld from the visitors. The ones who might have been helpful were portrayed as fanatics who should have been locked up instead of being allowed to run around loose to wreck havoc on the community. The main characters were like the idiots found in horror movies, roaming about unaware of the dangers lurking just outside the door of their cottage. Actually, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to classify this book in the horror genre, instead of fantasy. When Blue and Elisa go missing, the others frantically search for them, but the local folk take it all in stride, since they are aware of the presence of the Other Kind and it’s not the first time someone has disappeared. In fact, Blue was supposedly kidnapped by the fairies when he was a child. His grandmother believed that when her grandson returned home he was really a changeling, so she kept him locked him up until Blue and his mother were able to escape to NYC. All these memories come flooding back to Blue when he enters his grandmother’s house and goes into the basement where the cage is still hanging. Within the cellar Blue is confronted with compelling reminders of the Glittering World from his childhood. I found the repetitive vague warnings of the townsfolk and the constant insipid mutterings of the main characters annoying. Despite the elaborate descriptions Levy uses in his narrative, there is too much introspection and not enough action. Due to the culmination I correctly envisioned, I found myself dreading instead of looking forward to reading all the way to the end of the book.

Perhaps if the writing had been more compelling or the characters more endearing, I would have appreciated the story better, but instead this book left me with the same feelings I experience after stepping on an insect and having it stick to my shoe – “ewwww”. Two and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

I rarely read books translated from other languages. After finishing Finnish novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, I am reminded of why I stick to books by English speaking authors. Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen has created a plot which is odd to the point of being bizarre. In a normal world, Ella Milana, a substitute Finnish teacher (comparable to our English teachers), would be called psychotic. It is understandable that her world is falling apart after her fathers illness (Alzheimer’s) and death. She’s lost touch with her childhood memories, and perhaps all reality. Even the familiar books she reads have twisted plots different from the author’s original intent. Is she going crazy? She resigns from her teaching job.

Then an article Ella writes is published in the local paper and she is selected to be the tenth member of The Rabbit Back Literature Society. This rare honor is celebrated at a huge bash at the sponsor’s home. Yet when famous author, Laura White, the leader of this eclectic group, is set to appear, she literally disappears in a swirl of snow. Poor Ella is left without a mentor and the promised funding to start her career as a writer.

Ella has an ace up her sleeve. She can receive a stipend from the nearby university while she does research about this well known, but secretive society. And the pickings are easy to achieve, she simply needs to play “The Game” with the other nine members. Yet, does Ella really want to discover all the secrets the other writers have hidden from society? Perhaps there is a reason for their aloofness from the general public. And what about the mysterious former tenth member? As Ella plucks thoughts from her fellow authors’ brains, a story develops which is different from the truth represented to the outside world. There is a pervasive darkness which has invaded the society, keeping the members distant from one another. Can Ella put things to rights without compromising the rules?

This book is full of symbolism through the use of fantasy elements, evoking Scandinavian folklore traditions. The plot doesn’t start to get interesting until somewhere towards the second half of the novel. As the author discloses more details about the beginnings of the literary society, the story finally begins to make some sense, and thus becomes more interesting as it builds momentum towards the surprising conclusion.

What kind of book is this? There are elements of mystery, fantasy, horror, and realism. A Chucky meets Columbo sort of genre where reality is a false reflection of the truth. If you like the surreal, then you might appreciate Jaaskelainen’s style. I give The Rabbit Back Literature Society three stars, mainly for the concluding chapters. I actually enjoyed the way the author wraps up events, so my ending impression was on a positive note, despite the stilted style and confusion of the majority of the book.

I would like to thank Thomas Dunne Books and Netgalley for letting me preview a copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

If you are looking for a feel good read, go find another book, because this isn’t the right one for you. If you enjoy bizarre and unsettling stories which are surprising (but not in a good way), read away. How does the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events translate his dark style of writing into the adult realm? Your answer can be found in his newest novel, We Are Pirates.

Daniel Handler certainly has mastered that surreal touch of horror. All the characters are flawed. Their human faults prey off one another, like in a pool game where the cue ball hits one of the characters which ping off one or two of the others. In this case, the lucky ones end up in the pocket, and the losers stay in play throughout the book. Right up front Handler tells us about his youthful indiscretion of listing “pirate” on his high school aspiration list. Even then he realized that the vision of pirate seemed exciting and adventurous, while the reality contained a brutality and violence beyond our imagination. This is that story.

There are two parallel plot lines being told which somehow intersect. One is the story of fourteen year old Gwen who is rebelling against her parents. She feels unwanted (her name was left off the yearly Fourth of July open house invite), displaced with no friends (they have moved to an upscale neighborhood in San Francisco), scarred (there’s a mark on her leg from a accidental burn as a toddler), constantly under scrutiny (her mother searches her room regularly), bored (she isn’t allowed to take the bus alone), and disconnected from her parents (they don’t have a clue). While at the dentist, she accidentally meets up with a kindred spirit, Amber, who is just as mixed up and angry at the world. Together they devise a life changing plan – they decide to become pirates. Gwen, as a punishment for shoplifting at the local drug store, volunteers at a nursing home by caring for Errol, The Captain, who is fascinated with novels such as Captain Blood and Treasure Island. Gwen borrows these books and together they perfect the pirate lingo. Errol has Alzheimers, so he is easily persuaded to be Captain of the planned venture. Manny, an aide at the Jean Bonnet Living Center, also feels mistreated and misunderstood, and agrees to go along. Up to this point, the plot line is a harmless frolic. Then the friendly banter morphs into malice and mayhem involving drugs, kidnapping, theft, and even murder. This is where our pity towards lost souls turns into terror at the senseless violence. They truly become pirates.

The second story is about Gwen’s father, Phil Needle, a radio producer who is looking for that one idea which will propel him into the successful business man he desperately feels is his destiny. The truth is that Phil’s life is a mess and he’s close to financial ruin. He does have a potential masterful idea, but he can’t come up with a title. Just at the point he is ready to give his pitch, there’s a phone call that his daughter is missing. Phil, despite his narcissism, does love Gwen, so he drops everything and sets out for home, driving from LA to San Fran, as quickly as he can.

Somehow things get tied up in a frayed bow by the end of the novel, but it’s an ugly package to be decorating. There are too many baffling questions left up to the reader to ponder. The story is told by a narrator looking back and making comments on the culture of the times (these tidbits are an interesting aspect of the story, actually providing hope for a successful conclusion to the saga). But who is this story teller? Is it a reporter looking for an angle on the pirate scandal? Is it a private investigator looking for clues? Is it the author, putting himself in the position as impartial observer? In order to get a better understanding of what has occurred between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the time frame within this novel, it is necessary to reread the opening chapter. This is the true ending, not the beginning, of this book, which, although it provides some closure, also leaves the reader even more disgusted about the dynamics of the Needle family.

The style is easy, but the plot is strewn with stormy weather. If you have your sea legs, anchors away. Those who like smooth sailing, choose a different book. I give We Are Pirates three stars.

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for allowing me a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.